Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: Assessment

Assessment without levels

Spurred on by a conversation with Alex Ford, I decided to write down my initial thoughts on the debate around assessment at KS3. The proposal below is highly pragmatic and its simplicity derives from the belief that we (and by that I mean schools and teachers) already hold a notion of pupil progress in our heads.

Reporting student progress uses the following grade scheme:

  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D

I know. Radical.

Departments would work out what constitutes progress over three years and within each year group they would determine what A, B, C pieces of work would look like. These assessed pieces would also be combined with work in class and appear as grades on reports alongside the effort grade categories we currently use for classwork, homework and behaviour in class using a 1-4 scale;

  • 4 = excellent;
  • 3 = meeting expectations;
  • 2 = below expectations;
  • 1 = serious concerns.

These assessed pieces, reports and the end of year exam grade will form the final report grade reflecting our view on the progress the student has made throughout the year.

To be clear, grade A at Y7 is not the same as a grade A in Year 8. Awarding a Year 8 an A grade would demand more from a student and it would be clearly detailed by the department.

The benefits of this model are simple:

  • The subject experts decide what progress is in their subject (as they should) and it allows school leaders to ‘tap into the genius of those around you’;
  • The grades reported are linked to key skills, concepts and processes in the subject which are understood by students, parents & external bodies;
  • If an external body wants to find out if the students are making progress, the initial headline data is easy to produce. If they really want to dig further, they can consult the departmental documentation or better yet, look at the work.

To ensure that the model of progress in each subject does what it says, you would invite a HoD from another school to come in and sample some work and check it against the department documentation. A similar situation is used at HE.

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Rewarding progress

This week I was talking to someone about starting a new job and stressed the importance of the trying to understand the culture of a school before implementing huge changes. One general indicator is the school motto and in my case, it has really given focus to the work since September. The translation of the Berkhamsted motto reads ‘greatness increases with praise’ and for me, it represents one of the core values and has helped me to get to grips with, and also ask questions of, the way we do things.

With a focus on academic progress, I wondered at the start of the year what the motto would mean in relation to student academic reports and with Carol Dweck firmly in mind, I sought to align the reality of reports with this idea. It was very easy because I began to see the reports as a process rather than a thing in itself, allowing me to move away from the lopsided view where effort is seen as relatively meaningless. The method was straightforward. Measure the progress students made from one report set to another (we have two reports a term). How? Alongside the achievement grade, we also have three effort categories:

  • Classwork
  • Homework
  • Behaviour in Class.

In each category, every student is rated as either:

  • 4 – exceeding expectations;
  • 3 – meeting expectations;
  • 2 – falling short of expectations;
  • 1 – causing concern.

Following a similar idea at my previous school, I created an average effort grade (culled from all the numbers in all subjects) for report set one and report set two, checking if there was any positive movement from the first set to the next. What this allowed me to do was pick four students (two girls, two boys) who made improvements. I also selected the two students (one girl, one boy) who had the best overall average effort grade over both reports. The result is that we have 24 students from Years 7-10 going to a reward breakfast with the Heads of School (we are a ‘diamond school’ with separate schools for girls and boys) tomorrow morning (Year 11 are rewarded on achievement in mock examinations). The impact has been instant. Students feel they are getting somewhere and that their work is recognised, even if it may not equal the highest achievement grade (nor should it, as learning can be a messy business). For others, it was an unexpected boost at a time when they really needed it.

Informing students around the campuses has been a highlight this week (especially as sometimes I have very tough conversations with them).   They feel valued and understand that ‘doing well’ at school is more than just grades but also the effort they put into their work. Seeing them hurry to lessons with a smile shows that in taking care of the details, mottos can be ‘living’ things. After all, who doesn’t like being appreciated for their efforts?


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Conference Update #1

I love good news especially when I know others (as well as myself) will benefit. This weekend I had two good pieces of news which I am really pleased to relay.

The first piece is that Alistair Smith, author of Accelerated LearningLearning to Learn, the Secrets of Successful Schools and renowned trainer has agreed to speak at the Teaching, Learning & Assessment conference at Berkhamsted School on the 16th March 2013.

The second piece of good news is that Professor Bill Lucas, co-author (with Guy Claxton) of New Kinds of Smart, The Learning Powered School  and co-director of Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester has also agreed to speak.

With workshops run by outstanding teachers from across the country alongside distinctive and challenging key speakers, we believe that the conference will be a unique learning experience for attendees with lots of practical, effective ideas. Ticket prices and details about booking will appear on the blog and the Berkhamsted School website in October. What I can reveal is that the event price will be pleasing to everyone!

Places will be limited on the Saturday to make the workshops manageable so please bear this in mind when tickets are released. To enhance the weekend and to provide as much collaboration as possible, we will also be holding a TeachMeet on Friday 15th March which will be free to everyone. Further details will also be released in the next few months.

The response to the call for workshop proposals has been fantastic and we are still looking for more suggestions. If you would consider presenting a workshop or would like further information, please sign up to our Google Form on the original announcement post.

We look forward to seeing you on the 16th March! Stay tuned for further updates….

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